BY MARY AUSTIN
IN WHICH JACINTHA RIDES TO MONTEREY
THE Franciscans of Alta California in the year when Isidro Escobar should have begun his novitiate sat tight, kept the affairs of the Missions in close order, and prayed or plotted, as their vocation lay, against the decree of secularization. The prayers, it seemed, found no advocate. The plots, like that of Saavedra’s for turning the family of Escobar to priestly use, took a color, perhaps, from the lotus-eating land, were large and easy and too long in execution. For the most part they kept a quiet front in California, and trusted to the Brotherhood in Old Mexico. At that time of tedious communication it was hardly possible for the Padres of the Missions to know how nearly their college of San Fernando was demolished by the unfriendly republic. The possibility of swift revolution that harbors in Latin blood, their faith in St. Francis, strengthened by long immunity amid conflicting decrees, prompted to a cheerful view; but being, on the whole, accustomed to let no event meet them unprepared, they made ready for secularization, in case they found no way of avoiding it, according to their several notions. It was believed in some quarters that the Franciscans were converting the herds and flocks into coin, which was sent out of the country; it was known that others went about fitting the neophytes for the change by new and tremendous labors, or by larger freedom and greater responsibility. These are the pipes of history, the breadth of whose diapason sets many small figures going to various measures like midges in the sun. They go merrily or strenuously, with no notion of how they are blown upon; but let the great note of history be stilled and they fall flat and flaccid out of the tune of time. If you would know how Demetrio Fages and the Commandante, how Isidro and Mascado, Peter Lebecque and his foster child, called the Briar, played out their measure, you must know so much of the note of their time.
Chiefly, then, you will understand how Saavedra, being troubled and a little offended at Isidro’s disappearance immediately following the Father President’s great labors in his behalf, could not on that account delay his annual visit of counsel and inspection to the Missions, where affairs stood in the case I have stated.
When Padre Saavedra left his conference with Castro he looked about first for the young man, and learned that he had last been seen walking upon the beach below the town. The Padre himself started in that direction, saw only the children racing with the tide, took a turn about the streets, and saw nothing of the young man, sent Fages, still nothing; whereupon he concluded that Isidro had preceded him to Carmelo, and leaving his secretary to attend to some small matters, rode back to the Mission. Here the Padre’s slight annoyance grew into a measure of unease as the day passed and no Escobar. At noon, when the Indians came up from the field, he learned that two hours since the youth had sent for his horse and saddle; reminded by that of the lad Zarzito, he sent to seek him in the hut of Marta, and learned that nothing had been seen of him since the evening before. The report served to give an edge to the Father President’s alarm. Then about the hour of vespers came the secretary chocked with news; he could hardly deliver it at once, turning and smacking it upon his tongue. He had been with Delfina, and learned things of Escobar that fell in pat with his own desires. Fray Demetrio had a dull sort of climbing ambition, which he thought threatened by the proximity of the young gentleman, and had the natural gratification of the baser sort of men in seeing others brought down. As he stood twiddling his thumbs in the presence of Padre Saavedra, his expression of pained virtuosity would have done credit to the wooden image of a saint.
Señor Escobar, he said, had last been seen riding eastward from Monterey in company with Arnaldo the tracker.
“Heard you anything of his errand?”
The secretary cast up his eyes. “It is thought,” he said, “that he rides upon the trail of that brand of the burning, Zarzito.”
“Ah yes, the Indian lad; what of him ? He has not been seen since last evening.”
The Padre’s tone was one of gentle wonderment. Fages took his opportunity deliberately, watching from under cover of his stubby brows.
“Your Reverence,” said he, “it is shown by the most credible of all testimony, an eye-witness in fact, that El Zarzo was taken forcibly and carried away by an Indian yesterday at dusk from the beach below the calabozo. It is further averred that Señor Escobar has gone in search of them.”
Saavedra revolved this for a little space; he was not one to make gossip with an underling.
“Señor Escobar was concerned for the lad’s soul,” he said at last, “and his zeal outrunneth discretion. But strange that an Indian should by force carry off another Indian, especially a lad.”
“Especially,” said the secretary, “if a lad.” The turn of his voice upon the supposition was slight but pregnant. Saavedra put out his hand. His instincts were quick; perhaps he had seen Fages at mischief before now.
“Demetrio, Demetrio, Demetrio,” he said, three times, and the first was the cry of his heart to be spared unhappy news, the second was a priestly reproof against malice, the last a command.
The secretary understood that he was now free to deliver all Delfina’s adventure, a little colored by the tone of the minds through which it passed. The shame of the whole relation he took for granted; as, in fact, did the Padre; as any one of that time must have done. Saavedra was both hurt and sick; such duplicity, — to make himself a warrant for the girl’s lying at his door, — the pretense of concern for El Zarzo’s soul, — let alone his sacred calling, the boy’s breeding should have saved him from such an offense to hospitality,— the case for Escobar was black enough without that. Walking out in the garden with his deep concern, he passed the hut of Marta, and paused before it.
“My daughter,” he said, “how long have you known that El Zarzo is a girl?”
The woman looked up with something quick and apprehensive in her eyes. “Padre, from the beginning,” she said; going on defensively, answering the rebuke of his gaze: “she was newly from the hills, she brought me news of my son. I had not seen him for two years,” she finished simply.
The Padre turned away, pacing slowly between the vineyard and the pears, baffled and hurt at heart.
The next day, with no further inquiry about Escobar and no message left for him, Saavedra started toward Santa Cruz to visit the Missions that lay northward. By so doing he missed meeting with Delgardo, who came up from San Antonio two days later with the young wife of Escobar in his train.
Valentin Delgardo could be trusted not to miss a pretty girl anywhere, much more if he found her where he had looked to find only priests, a corporal, a private soldier or two, and some hundreds of Indians. He saw her first in the evening glow walking in the pomegranate path of the Mission San Antonio where he had put in for the night. A light wind shaped her clothing to her young curves as she walked, the rebozo had fallen back from her head, her hands were folded at her throat. Delgardo arranged his cloak, set his hat a-cock, and sought Padre Tomas. In an affair of ladies he judged the round priest the better man. But what he heard put all thoughts of gallantry out of his mind. The slim crescent beauty was no señorita, but the Señora Escobar. That was the name that pricked all Delgardo’s wits forward. “If you do not find her,” said Lebecque, “ask Escobar.”
The whole story of the virgin marriage gushed from Padre Tomas of the Stripes like a living spring, a strange thing to tell and a new ear to hear it, following on a comfortable meal! He had not enjoyed himself so much for a long time. The hour enticed to companionable talk; Indians in the cloister began to croon a hymn. The young straight figure paced up and down by the pomegranate hedge that stood out sharply against a saffron sky. Delgardo drained the Padre dry of news, learned how the girl was no maid, being married, and no wife, being deserted at the church door; went so far as to be sure that the Padre was sure the marriage was a cloak for no unchastity, but no farther. Padre Tomas knew nothing back of the hour when Isidro and the girl came riding out of the wood; or, if he knew it, kept it under the seal of the confessional. The young man did not, therefore, open his own budget at that time. He must know how Escobar came by the girl; was she the same bred up by Peter Lebecque’s Indian wife in the hut of the Grapevine, called, because of her pricking tongue, “the Briar”? The Padre helped him there.
“And she had not even a name, this beautiful one; yes, she is beautiful; even I, a poor brother of St. Francis, can see that; so we wrote in the register the name of her foster father, Lebecque, nothing more. The young man was to bring a name on his return; that was the purpose of his going, that and some business with the Father President. So I understood. But it was most irregular; Padre Carrasco was of the opinion that I should have withheld the sacrament. But I hold that since the girl was plainly a Christian she must have had a name, though it was for the time mislaid, as you might say.”
Still Don Valentin kept his thought, took a whole night, in fact, to set it out in his mind. By morning he had it shaped thus: that, not to be baulked of all reward, he would take the girl to her father; and, as for the unconsummated marriage, there might be more doing. The girl was still her father’s ward,—under age, married without his consent, — ravishment, married out of her name,—false pretense, only half married at that; no knowing what might come of it. The first thing was to get her out of the way of Escobar, who deserved it for being a fool.
Soon after the hour of compline he set Padre Tomas’s ears tingling with more news than he had heard during his incumbency of San Antonio. Here, as at Peter Lebecque’s, he told his story very much to the point, and so convincingly, that within half an hour he had the girl in to hear it in the Padre’s parlor, where the chief furniture was plaster saints in niches blackened by candle smoke. She came stilly, keeping close by the wall, a little pinched about the mouth, but with level eyes, young limbs, lithe and quick, unaccustomed to the trammels of her dress. The corporal’s wife had stuck a pomegranate blossom in the smoky folds of her hair; it served to warm a little the pure pallor of her skin.
“Eh, come, come, child!” cried Padre Tomas de las Peñas when he heard her in the corridor; “come and see what we have for you, come and hear a tale. Ah, ah! Our Lady and St. Francis have been working for you. Is it a name you lack ? Well, you shall have it, and not only a name, a most honorable name, but a family, a father in short, a notable and worthy parent, and not only a father, but a fortune, estates, immense! Ah, all this for a beautiful young woman who has already a handsome husband! ” Delgardo looked at him rather sourly for this. The girl simply stared; the breath came through her parted lips like a child’s.
“Sit down, sit down!” cried the Padre; “you shall hear.” She sat on the edge of the carved bench boyishly. The corporal’s wife trailed in her wake as a duenna, plumped down beside her, untangled a fat arm from her rebozo, and held one of the girl’s hands. It was doubtful if Jacintha understood all the explanations, but she answered their questions plainly enough. She was the French trapper’s foster child. She had known that the Indian woman was not her mother, but she would always call her so. It was her mother’s wish that she should go dressed as a boy. In that fashion she had left Cañada de las Uvas a month back. So far she was docile and apt, but if they questioned her upon her life in Monterey, and how she came to be riding into San Antonio de Padua with Señor Escobar from an easterly direction, when Monterey lay north and west, then she fell dumb. Her Indian training wiped all vestige of expression from her face, set her eyes roving past the plaster saints and the candles, out of the deep casement toward the mission fields. Curious as Delgardo and the Padre both were they had to let her be. The young man, watching, thought her not so much cold as childish, immature, a great beauty, and plainly a Castro. The puzzle of the last two days’ work had drawn proud lines of pain such as he knew in the Commandante’s face, knit the fine brows, and tightened the small mouth. The likeness came out wonderfully when one looked for it. But Don Valentin thought her what she was not, timid and awed by his splendid appearance. She looked not so much at him as at his embroideries and the torquoise in the cord of his sombrero. He thought her dazzled when, in fact, the little god of love had made her blind. The young man took a high hand, — the part became him, — showed letters from Castro delegating parental authority, required that the girl be delivered to him and by him to the Commandante. The Padre boggled at that; the lady had been left expressly in his charge by her husband. Husband, ah, husband, is it ?
“A word in your ear, Padre; how can the young man be a husband and he a priest? If not actually beginning his novitiate, at least dedicate, bound.” Delgardo had heard that story at Monterey. “ Did he not tell you at parting that he had business with the Father President ? Ay, truly. What sort of a husband is it that leaves his wife at the altar, tell me that ? In fact, the fellow dared go no farther.” Under such skillful handling the marriage assumed the proportions of a crime with the Padre as accomplice. The young man checked off the points of offense as you have heard them. The Padre polished his rosy countenance until it shone with perplexity, but it came to this, that he would do nothing without consulting his confrère Relles Carrasco. Padre Carrasco being at that moment in the farthest precincts marking out cattle for slaughter, the business hung in suspense until the evening of that day, as was in keeping with the movement of that time, and nobody suffering inconvenience on that account.
Padre Carrasco was as shrewd as dry. He came in with the skirt of his cassock tucked under his girdle, and gave it as his opinion that the lady’s husband could not but be gratified by his wife’s good fortune, and seeing he had already gone to the capital it could do no harm for her to meet him there; but, nevertheless, the lady should have her own free will to go or stay. Jacintha, when she was called to counsel, said very quietly that she would go to Monterey. It seemed to her the quickest way to Escobar.
“Señora,” said Don Valentin on the road, edging his horse as near to her as the way allowed, “let me beg you to draw your rebozo closer about your face, otherwise I do not know how we shall get to Monterey; your beauty sends my wits astray.”
“In that case,” said Doña Jacintha, “you had best ride a little distance forward.”
“Useless,” he said, pranking his horse across the trail, “the music of your voice draws me back again.”
“So we shall get on faster if I do no talking,” said she.
“Ah, cruel, cruel!” he sighed.
The lady was out of tune with such pointed blandishments. At the crossing of a brook he offered her drink from his own silver cup, though the strictest behavior owed the first attention to Señora Romero the duenna.
“Drink, most beautiful,” said the young man, “and no other shall drink after you.”
“It would be a pity,” said she, “on that account to spoil so excellent a vessel.” And she waited until the corporal’s wife had done with her gourd.
“It is not for nothing you were called the Briar,” said Delgardo, and he put up his cup. Finding he made no way with her by compliments, he left off teasing his horse, and talked of the family of Ramirez, their estates and fame, to which she listened with patience and collected looks. He had a guitar in his pack, a necessary part of a young gentleman’s baggage, which he fingered skillfully, letting the bridle rein hang on the saddle-bow. It was a warm day livened by a damp wind. Westward a bank of roundish cloud reflected a many-tinted radiance from the sea. The rim of his sombrero made a half moon of shadow on his face as he tilted up his chin for singing; the light warmed his throat ruddily and glinted on the jewel in his hat. He sang an aria called “The Dove,” and “La Nocha est Serena,” but got no notice from the lady until he struck into a little tender air of absent love, which Escobar had used to hum wordlessly under his breath. That fluttered her, as Don Valentin was quick to see, so he rode, singing, while the cavalcade jogged forward to the twanking of his guitar, well pleased with himself and revolving many things.
The trail ran from San Antonio de Padua to Nuestra Señora la Soledad, with a branch running off toward Monterey, uniting again at Santa Cruz. Delgardo, who had reasons of his own for prolonging the way, chose to go by way of Soledad, and Doña Jacintha made no objection.
All the splendid effects, it seems, are saved for nature’s own performances, — sunset glow, long thunder of the surf, loud thunder of the hills, the poppy fires of spring, a white star like a torch to usher in a crescent moon; but men’s great occasions go shabbily, out of tune, with frayed settings, cheapened by the hand that pushes them off of the board. Events that the passions of a whole life lead up to come in with a swarm of small stinging cares like gnats; compensations are doled out by half-pence.
For sixteen years the interests of the Commandante found nothing to fix upon, his affections no point of departure. The ichor of kindness curdled even in his dreams. It made him a martinet in discipline, and a friend merely of his friend’s buttons. The habit of perfect behavior put him through the motions of taking an interest in men, but there was plainly no heart in it; naturally this got him misunderstood. He was thought too cold to have cared greatly about his wife, but it was, in fact, the caring that had left him frozen. The renewed hope of his child had come upon him suddenly, and reached a marvelous growth. It was not that he wished more strongly to find her since she was the heiress of Ramirez, but when she was only Ysabel’s child the hate of Ysabel had seemed to baulk him in his search. For himself he had not the heart for going on with it, but Ysabel would have wished the girl to come into the inheritance.
Therefore as he wished to please his wife, still personal and dear, the reasons which before had warded him off now led on. He had really believed his daughter dead all these years. It occurred to him now that this wanted proving at several points, — an excuse for hope. Then came the discovery of the certificate in the almsbox, and hope flared into conviction. She lived, bone of his bone, commingling of his flesh and that of the dearly loved. Ah, Christ! but he had done something; her hate had not been proof against that, — made her body bud and bear fruit; struck a soul out of her soul as a spark is struck out of cold steel. His very thought at this point was choked and incoherent. He was in the exalted mood of a man hearing first that there is hope of issue of his love. He had thoughts, if Delgardo’s mission came to nothing, of resigning his command to make a pilgrimage through the inhabited coast of California until he should find her. And while he quivered with expectancy, Jacintha came in upon him in a manner least to be expected, with the advent of more than ordinary official pother and distraction.
It happened in this way: on the night that Valentin Delgardo and his party lay at Mission Nuestra Señora la Soledad, a band of twenty mounted Indians had descended from the hills, crossing the river above the Mission, and run off twice as many head of cattle from the mission fields. It was surmised that the men must have been Urbano’s following, rag-tag of all the tribes, their leader himself a renegade from Santa Clara, and late harboring in the tule lands about the San Joaquin River. Small losses of cattle had been laid on his shoulders before, but on this occasion it appeared that he must have had an accomplice within the Mission. The theft was not discovered until after the hour of morning service, as late as nine o’clock, to be exact, which gave the marauders a good ten hours’ advantage. It was true of the Franciscans that they not only preached peace and good will to the native Californians, but practiced it. Their conquest of three hundred miles of coast was accomplished almost without bloodshed, and maintained without soldiering, unless you gave that name to the corporal and two or three privates stationed at each community of five to fifteen hundred Indians. Six soldiers was a very large number to be employed at any Mission, and Soledad, lying nearest to Monterey and the Presidio, had only two. Immediately on the discovery, the corporal and his man, a deserting sailor who had enlisted to escape being forced to sea, with two trusted neophytes, set about tracking the plunderers, and a rider was sent to Monterey to the Commandante. This was a case in which the Padres could confidently expect military aid, for if the Indians began to plunder the Missions unpunished they would not be kept long from the towns. The courier started at once, and half an hour later, a little delayed by the flutter at Soledad, Delgardo and his party set out, riding leisurely and making a comfortable camp at noon.
Delgardo was not so talkative as yesterday, considering how he would present the girl to Castro to put himself in the best light. It stuck in his mind that the month when the girl strayed about Monterey with Escobar, in boy’s clothing, covered more than mere freakishness. Padre Tomas thought otherwise, — but the Padre also believed in miracles and holy water for bears. Privately he thought the fat priest a credulous fool. Don Valentin wished to marry the girl if it proved feasible; but though he could contemplate a marriage for advantage without love and not be singular in his time, he was too much sopped in the chivalric notion of his type to admit a wedding without honor. He held the girl’s marriage with Escobar a knot to untangle, or a reasonable excuse for drawing back if she should prove in his estimation damaged goods.
The young man was not so sure if it came to a wedding it would be altogether without love. He had kindled a fire under his imagination with her romantic story, the glamour of her wealth and her promise of beauty. Lastly, he marveled to find her manners not so much unfit for her station as might have been expected. Something she had caught from Escobar, electrified by the fineness that made him adorable. But beyond that, the Indian woman, remembering whence the girl had sprung, had denied her own instincts to bring up the child in the image of the dominant race. By great pains and tremendous labors of an elementary mind Castro’s daughter had been nurtured in an exquisite personality,—labors beyond her own power to divine, — so that afterward, when she had come to the prime of her charm and bodily beauty, she was pointed out and accustomed to believe herself fit for her exalted station chiefly by the prerogative of birth.
Jacintha’s thoughts on this day of riding toward Monterey did not run so far back as the time of her foster mother, hardly so far forward as the home of her father; beginning, in fact, with a day when a herd boy under an oak saw a glorious youth come out of the wood, driving Mariana’s sheep. She understood how it was that Castro should be her father; she had seen him about the Presidio, and vaguely prefigured his relation to her; but her experience hardly afforded the stuff for imagination. She gathered from the corporal’s wife that the rise in her fortunes must give her new value in her husband’s eyes; but as she had never felt servility in the first estate she had no elation in this. Whatever her husband’s disposition toward her, her passion was still too virginal to form a wish. In her first dream of their life together he should have been a priest rapt from the world, and she should serve him and lie at his door. Inasmuch as the circumstance of her birth jostled this dream, she found it vexatious and confusing, and she lacked material for shaping a new one. Chiefly she burned with the thought that as Escobar had said he would go to Monterey she would meet him there. The air was charged with the sense of his presence. She made scant answers to Don Valentin’s curtailed compliments, each being busy with thought, and the corporal’s wife, having all the conversation to herself, made the most of it. So they rode until they heard the sound of the sea and dogs barking in the streets of Monterey.
Plain folk had not yet lost the zest of life in Alta California. Nearly all the town was out in the plaza, helping to make ready the detachment for Soledad with the joyous volubility and deft-handedness of the Latin race. Castro was settling a hornet’s nest of small matters in his room with the balcony overlooking the sea.
In the midst of it, while he leaned his head upon his hand for weariness, there came a great knocking at the outer door, and a quarrel of voices, — his orderly’s and another lofty and contained. He heard the babble fall off to a note of amazement and gratulation and the feet of his household running toward the door. The Commandante turned expectantly to meet fresh news from Soledad, and felt a warning precede it down the passage; a warmth and glow that settled at his heart, a presage of satisfaction. The bustle halted a moment outside his door, which, before he had done wondering why the noise should be mixed with the sweep of women’s skirts, was flung open by Delgardo. The Caballeros of that time loved flourishes; Don Valentin led the girl forward by her finger-tips, and swept up to the Commandante with a great bow.
“Your daughter, señor.” Then he fell back in an attitude to note the effect.
Castro saw only a slim figure, straight and illy dressed, and his own chilled spirit looking at him out of the eyes, mouth, and brow of Ysabel, his wife. He grew rigid; his hand fluttered and strayed toward a drawer where certain papers lay with some cherished trifles of his wife’s.
“Jacintha— Jacintha,” he said whisperingly, for now he had the name by heart; and then, as the resemblance smote home to him, “Ysabel, Ysabel.”
“Ah,” cried Delgardo delightedly, “you see a likeness?”
Castro got up drunkenly and went across to her; his breath was short and labored; all his motions dragged as with a weight. The girl stood still and cold; drooping now with fatigue, her arms hung down straight at her sides. The Commandante took her by the shoulders and constrained her toward him. The room was close and warm; blue flies buzzed at the pane. Dust of travel, saddle weariness, the smell of provender and horse blankets being doled out in the quarters below, obsessed the sense of them all. The hour fell flat and dry. Castro began to work his lips, gray and trembling, but seemed not to understand that he brought out no words. Suddenly, jarring the stillness, rang out the trumpet call to evening drill, which Castro was used to have in charge. Military precision, the use of old habit, held and stood the Commandante in the stead of tears. They saw the motions of his face, and understood them for the excuses which he believed he had delivered. The man sank into the Commandante as a sword is dropped into a sheath. He turned stiffly and went out.
So the first hour which Jacintha passed in her father’s house was spent sitting on a bench in the bare little room, with Señora Romero surprised into stillness, and Delgardo walking up and down beside her.
The necessity of providing his daughter and her company a meal and beds steadied Castro, and carried him through an hour or two until he could hear Delgardo’s story. Jacintha admitted every point as far as it touched her knowledge, and recognized the packet as the one she had brought up from Peter Lebecque. But Castro needed no other warrant than her looks. Communication between them was still dry and unfruitful. He kissed her forehead only for good-night, and she endured it.
The detachment, twelve men and an officer, got off for Soledad by sunrise, which for that time was unusual dispatch. The Presidio returned to its level round, and news of Castro’s daughter began to spread about the town. But the two came no nearer each other. Jacintha was always at a window looking out, hungering amid the strangeness for a sight of Escobar; restless, starting at small sounds, close upon the verge of tears, not recognizing her own state. Castro would be always edging in her direction, not enduring to have her out of his sight, and wondering at the dryness of his own heart. Toward the middle of the afternoon he found her on the balcony with the kerchief off her neck for coolness, and he saw the cord that held the medal about her slender throat.
“ What is this, daughter ? ” he said, with his hand upon her shoulder, yearning toward the proper intimacy of their relation and not daring much.
“I have always worn it,” she said. “Juana told me it belonged to my baptism. I have never had it off.”
Castro drew it out and held it in his palm, warm from her bosom. Then he knew it for Ysabel’s, and thrilled to it as to living touch of her. He kissed it, murmuring to it broken words of endearment, and laid his head upon the railing before him, kneeling on the floor, and cried. The girl was in a mood to be touched by his grief; sick with longing, strange, tired with new habits, she began to gasp; tears filled her eyes, brimmed over and ran abroad on her cheeks as not having learned the way; filled and brimmed over as the pool of a rain-fed spring. Her father heard the drip of her tears on the floor, reached out and drew her in; kneeling they sobbed together. Jacintha’s tears were purely hysterical, but Castro mistook them; they mingled with his and washed the wounds of her mother’s hate.
The Commandante began to be inordinately fond of his daughter, touched the earth only at the points that served her. He ransacked the shops, and obtained extraordinary trading privileges for a Yankee vessel on the mere intimation that it carried women’s fardels for barter. Señora Romero was sent home with a handsome present, and the wife of one of Castro’s lieutenants established Jacintha’s duenna and adviser. Old Marta of the Mission Carmelo was brought over to be her personal attendant; it was the only preference the girl made in her new situation.
No one but the Indian woman and Delgardo knew of the wedding at San Antonio, and their mouths were effectively stopped by self-interest, for this was the one thing at which Castro’s gorge rose. Jacintha had told him very simply how it came about, — the capture, bondage, and delivery, Isidro’s discovery of her sex, the young man’s high airs, and the virgin marriage, — all except the one important item that she loved him. A certain crisp manner of speaking and a boyish straightforwardness where one should look for blushes and tremors carried no information. The Commandante had the sense to see that if this story of boy’s dress and Mascado ever got abroad, the marriage would prove the best cure for the girl’s blown fame. He could appreciate Escobar’s chivalry so far, but he stuck at the desertion. Was she good enough for bell and book, and not good enough for bed and board — the daughter of a Ramirez! — By the mass! Here he would fall to conning the insinuations of Don Valentin, to whom he was as extraordinarily grateful as he was fond of his child. Certainly there was reason enough for this unconsummated marriage to be set aside if reason ever was; and Delgardo was the better match. Saavedra, when he returned from the north, would have something to contribute. Castro had dispatched letters asking to be relieved from his command, to accompany his daughter to Mexico in the settlement of the estate, and nothing need be arranged until that time.
As for Jacintha, she took all her new life alike, as the caged animal takes the cage and the hand that feeds it. She was very still, especially through the day, when she was under her father’s hand. This was the manner of their life together: they would have chocolate in the patio of a morning; then, while her father left her for his official labors, she would go about the house with Marta, making great concern of the housekeeping, of which she knew very little. Castro would be running in and out all day to make excuse to see her. After the siesta she would sit for an hour or two with the lieutenant’s wife, learning the mysteries of the toilet and needlework, of which she knew nothing at all. At the evening meal the Commandante sat long over his wine, sometimes in the patio, sometimes in the little balcony overlooking the sea. Then Don Valentin would come in and make conversation suited to ladies’ company. He would bring his guitar and sing tender and passionate airs to which the girl was glad to listen. It was so she learned the phraseology of love. But when the house was shut and all lights out in the town, a wood mood came upon her. She could not sleep within walls at any time, but had her cot brought out to the patio under a vine; there she would lie, and the Indian woman crouch by her head; or at times she would pace the length of her cage with inconceivably light tread, and always they would talk. Now they would say how it would be in the forest at that hour, and what would be doing at certain dark pools where the wood creatures came to drink, or what roots or berries were best at that season, and the virtues of certain herbs. Other times the girl would despoil herself of tenderness and babble of Isidro and the joy of their riding, riding in the pleasant weather; now it would be the slow open heath of Pasteria with the shepherd fires and flooding moon; now a sudden small bluster of rain that sent them to shelter under a thicket where there was a smell of moist earth, and all the grass was wet; then the stony slopes of wild lilac that slapped the horses’flanks, and the sea fog drifting in. At times she fell sick with longing, lying dry-eyed and dumb; then it would be Marta who showed her straightly how a man’s love is taken and kept, and how a woman must give wholly without seeming to give all. Also it was ordained that as a man grew weary of kissing there would be young mouths at the breast to draw out that pain, so that if women had the worst of it in loving they had afterward the best.
“A lover is a great lord,” she said, “but a son is a greater. Wait, most beautiful, till you have borne a son.” The poor girl owned to herself there was little chance of that, and, in fact, she hardly asked so much. But the time wore on, and Escobar did not come. Then her pride began to be awake. She saw her father deeply fretted by Escobar’s lateness, which he took for scorn. At last he ventured to speak to her of it, and once opened between them it was like fire out of cover. He perceived her hurt, which was really the wound of latent womanliness at being so lightly set aside, for she knew nothing of family pride and little of caste. It was enough for Don Jesus that she suffered at all, and he fumed accordingly.
All Jacintha’s pride was not to be found wanting in anything befitting the wife of an Escobar. If resentment was proper to her station, she must make a show of it at whatever cost. So she took arms against her love to make herself more worthy of her lover. In this she followed Castro’s lead. It is fair to say that of Don Valentin’s courting she apprehended not a whit. When her father hinted at the possibility of a dissolution of the marriage she assented, believing in her heart that so Escobar wished. Affairs, being in this posture, remained without alteration until at the end of ten days they had word from the detachment following the cattle thieves in the hills eastward from Soledad.
A WORD FROM THE MOUNTAINS
One allows to the flight of wild pigeons, darkening the sky for days, a prescience germinating singly in each bluish breast at the same hour, as gilias blow in instant myriads upon the spur of spring. Wild geese clang upward from the Tulares as recurrently as grapes ripen in the wood at the set time of the year; but when men begin to sway together, to move in companies and exhibit in widely scattered parts froth of the same churning desires, we are far to seek for the cause of it: usurpations, extortions, Pentecost or Judgment of God. It is all devil or Holy Ghost. So the Franciscans laid the mutinies, fallings off, and infringements of the savages to the first mentioned; even so the tribes braved themselves for such trespass by commerce with their disused gods. No doubt the god of the waterfowl and the wood pigeons would have served as well in either case.
About the middle of the month of waning bloom the free Indians drew to cover in the stony winding gullies of the mountains, about forty true born and a half-dozen mestizos and mongrels, led by Urbano, who had Mascado for his right hand. They made medicine daily; smoke of council fires went up by night, and the click of rattles sounded through the wood with singing and exultation. The presage of their triumph rose like an exhalation from their camps, and settled over the Missions, where thousands of their blood had taken on the habits of a gentler life, swung censers for medicine sticks, had scapulars for fetiches, and prayed to the One God prefigured in a wooden doll. If the new faith went deeper it was not so deep that the roll of the ceremonial drums struck no chord under it. After the news of the skirmish at Las Chimineas, the neophytes kept close. By all accounts only rabbits and appointed couriers ran on the road between Soledad and Monterey, but the wood began to leak. Hints of distraction crept into the Missions; old men had glittering eyes and talked cautiously in corners. Scraps of news with no mouth to father them drifted from Carmelo to the town and were guaranteed by courier two or three days later. It was whispered that Marta had news of her son, for whom she kept a candle burning before San Antonio and the Child. She went that day walking over from Monterey, and took away the candle from the little altar of Carmelo; she may have thought the saint inattentive, or perhaps that her son did well enough for himself where he was. She went straight to the blessed candle, snuffed it out, and hid it in her bosom. Unprecedented behavior. None saw her but an altar ministrant who dared nothing by way of interference; the chief’s daughter had a commanding walk and the manners of royalty grew upon her in those days. Her eyes were bleak with memories, at other times bright and hot. She would be about the house crooning old songs, and would fall into set, unconscious stares. Of evenings they heard her chant low and wildly when the moon was up and a light wind came in from the sea. The sound of her singing mixed with the strumming of Don Valentin’s guitar, and pierced Jacintha like a call from the wild. Then she wearied of love and its sickness, and would make occasion to slip away to Marta and talk of her life at the Grapevine before Escobar came. Out of sheer kindness she would recall hunting exploits of Mascado’s, of which the older woman was greedy. There was much gossip of a hero-making sort afloat concerning him at Carmelo, where the Padres kept the smoke of incense going all day, increased the service of the mass, and had serious thoughts of attaching a penance to the singing of native songs. But the time drew on to the dark of the moon, when no dog howls and wolves will not run in a pack. The stir and the singing died, women grinding at the quern began to lift a hymn to the Blessed Virgin.
The soldiers were reported still following the cattle thieves who were retreating eastward. Then came the news of a skirmish near the Arroyo Seca in which three soldiers were killed and two hurt. A few only of the cattle were recovered, for the Indians had parted them in three bands and gone up from Soledad by divers trails. Many of the marauders had guns, for which it was surmised the Russian traders would be paid in the hides of stolen beeves. This was stirring news for a lotus-eating land. A new detachment from the Presidio got off at once; Castro himself rode at the head of it. This satisfied a public sentiment, and his own sense of the seriousness of his position, which was great. It touched his honor to leave no loose ends of mutiny in his jurisdiction, since he had applied for and expected his honorable retirement. He drew heavily on the military resources of the province, and got away with twenty men provisioned for a month.
Saavedra came hurrying home from the north, and the same day came to him Delgardo with his story of the wedding at San Antonio, and Pascual Escobar, ridden up from Las Plumas, demanding his brother from all the four winds. Word of Isidro’s imprisonment and other extraordinary doings had penetrated so far, and the young man was jealous of the credit of his house. Saavedra put him off with fair words until he had revolved how much of Isidro’s story could be told in fairness to all parties, and in the interim several things happened.
Affairs moved on much the same for Jacintha except that the lieutenant’s wife sat with her evenings when Delgardo came in with his guitar, and she, loving a lover as do most ladies, egged on the match with practiced art. Delgardo was beginning to imagine himself vastly in love. Jacintha stirred a little to practice on him the arts in which she lacked no tutoring from her duenna.
Then Fray Demetrio, who had heard of this hedged young beauty whom one had no more than a glimpse of as she passed with her father in the promenade, bethought himself of sundry past kindnesses on the part of the lieutenant’s wife, and made a ghostly call. The man was at all times inordinately curious, and had a fine taste for ladies’ looks.
“ She is not to be seen, brother, I assure you,” said the duenna; “the Commandante was most strict; but to one of your holy calling, and an old friend — and you knew her mother, you say” — You may judge what exchange of compliments had gone to the visit up to this point. “Well,” said the lady, “when we cross the patio to look at the Castilian roses, look behind the vine there; we call it Jacintha’s vine. That is she with her needlework lying in her lap. It is always so, I assure you, when I am not by. Look now and tell me if the likeness is as striking as reported.”
Fages looked, choked, spluttered, came near to having an apoplexy, but had the wit to keep his tongue in guard.
“Ah! ” cried the lady at the outer gate, “you find the resemblance extraordinary. So the Señor Commandante says.”
“Extraordinary, my dear lady, is not the word; it is miraculous; not a feature lacking, even to the bent bar of her brows. ”
“But surely,” said the lady as she let him out, “ the eyebrows she has from her father. So I have understood.”
Fray Demetrio went straight to Delfina. When those two worthies had their heads together there was sure to be gossip afoot. Within three hours Delfina came bustling about the quarters on a dozen well-devised errands, pertinacious as a wasp until she had a good look at the Commandante’s daughter, and went out humming with her news. By nightfall most matrons in the town knew that there was a reasonable supposition that Doña Jacintha was the same slim lad seen lurking about the Mission a month gone, with Señor Isidro Escobar, the same who had been carried off by an Indian, run after by one young man and brought home by another. By the next day they were sure of it, by the second it had reached the lieutenant’s wife and Pascual Escobar.
Pascual flounced off to Saavedra in a great fume. He felt the occasion demanded that he should fight somebody; not Saavedra, since he was a priest, nor Jacintha, for she was a lady; but when Padre Vicente had told him the whole story as far as it was known to him, Pascual concluded it must be Delgardo. From the start he would have taken to the young man immensely for his fine airs and sumptuous dress; had copied both and lost all his money to him at cards; but in view of what he purposed toward Isidro, — nothing less than possession of his wife, — Delgardo had rather shrugged off an intimacy with the elder brother.
Pascual found the young man in front of his lodging, fixing his saddle in perturbation, with scant allowance for courtesies.
“A word with you, señor,” cried Escobar.
“Another time, señor; I have business in hand.”
“I also, senor; my business is with you.”
“I pray you hold me excused. I go upon a journey of great urgency.”
“You shall go upon a longer one if you do not hear me speedily. My business is the duello. Will you fight?”
“With you? Wine of Christ! Yes, when I return, if your affair has not passed off in vaporings by that time.” Delgardo sprang to the saddle and struck into a tearing gallop. Escobar galloped after and drew level.
“Señor, I challenge you. You offend. You are courting my brother’s wife. Will you fight ? ” The wind of their speed took the words out of his mouth.
“The devil!” cried Delgardo. “You have heard that story!”
“I say again,” panted Pascual, “will you fight ?”
“Señor, can you ride?”
“Ride, ride!” cried Escobar. “Judge if I can ride.” He cut his horse cruelly with the quirt and tore ahead. Delgardo used the spur and came up with him.
“Then ride, señor, for if we make not good speed this day I know not how long you may have a brother. And as for his wife, I believe she has gone in search of him.”
“Explain, explain!” cried Pascual, the words pounded out of him by the jar of their riding.
“ Word has come to me that Don Isidro is in captivity with the Indians. His wife, if wife she is, is not to be found. I think she has gone to find him. The woman Marta is with her. I go to Castro. Now will you fight or ride?”
“Ride, ride,” gasped Pascual, “if it is as you say, and afterward if need be we will fight.”
“Have it so,” said Delgardo; and after that they saved their breath, and lent their minds to the speed of the horses. They kept a running pace until they struck rising ground.
News of Isidro’s detention in the camp of the renegades had come to Monterey from Soledad, where it was made known by a captive taken at Arroyo Seca. Marta had carried it straight to Jacintha.
“Sing, my bird of the mountain,” she said. “I have a word for you. He is neither faithless nor unkind.” Guess how the girl hugged that news, nursing it against her heart till it was warm with hope. Marta had known how to put tidings in a fruitful shape. She waited for the pang and the cry that followed in the wake of joy.
“But, Marta,” she said, “Mascado?”
“What of him?” said the older woman.
“He is there with the Indians, next to the chief you said. He will kill Señor Escobar.”
“He will not dare,” said the mother of Mascado.
“Ah, but you do not know. When we came away from Las Chimineas, as I have told you, when my — when Señor Escobar had taken him with the riata and bound him, he looked at us as we rode away, — such a look! There he sat with his back to the tree and his knife on the rock before him; he looked from that to Señor Escobar and back again as if he would have drawn them together with his eyes, so great was his hate. There was death in his look. Ah, Marta, tell me what I shall do.”
“But he has not killed him yet,” said Marta.
“ You do not know; the news is a week old. Mascado may not have seen him yet; they say the Indians are in three camps.” The girl wrung her hands.
“Mascado would not dare,” said his mother again.
But Jacintha fell to crying softly without noise or sobbing; then she would sit drawing counsel from her hope, and afterward the flood of grief would grow full and drip over in unrelieving tears. Marta made her chili rellenos for dinner, green peppers stuffed with cheese and fried, but the girl would take no comfort in them. So at last when the sun had licked up the shadow like damp from the patio, and the whole town lay a-doze, Marta took the girl’s hands between her palms and said her last word.
“Fret no more, my Briar,” she said, “I will go and speak with my son.”
“How will you go, Marta?”
“I can get a horse, and if any meet me in the hills I will say I seek my son. Mascado is a captain. They will not hurt me.”
“But how will you know where he is ?”
“I have a word, — a bird of the air brought it; never fear.”
“And when you find him what will you do ? ”
The daughter of a chief drew herself up.
“What becomes me,” she said.
“Ah, Marta, take me with you!”
“Most beautiful, what will you do in the hills?”
“I will go to my husband.”
“There is war in the hills, and the tribes are bitter against the gentes de razon.”
“But if I am of the gentes de razon I am also Indian bred. Seventeen years I myself knew no better.” With such debates she followed the elder woman from room to room.
“What will your father say?” said Marta.
“What will he say to you whom he commanded not to leave me ?” demanded the girl.
“Will you that I stay?”
“Ah no, no, — only take me with you.”
There was another reason why Jacintha wished to get away from Monterey, one as deep as her desire and more inarticulate. By dint of many hints from the lieutenant’s wife, the point of Delgardo’s compliments grew plain to her. Now she saw her father’s drift, and what prompted his ire against Escobar. That tie dissolved, Delgardo was to have her, to which her own quietude under her father’s suggestion had in a measure committed her. All the simplicity of her forest breeding, which denies the approach of marriage to any feet but love’s, and perhaps a wraith from Ysabel’s unhappy grave, rose up to warn her dumbly. But it lay too deep for complaining; she could sense it, but not give it speech. All that afternoon she avoided her duenna and the needlework under plea of a headache, that she might find Marta among the cooking pots and pans, and with arms folded on the elder woman’s knees make argument and persuasion.
Urbano, captain of the rag-tag of tribesmen, whose right hand was Mascado, was not the stuff of which new civilizations are made. That was about all there was behind his defection from Santa Clara. He and some dozens of his following wished not to live always in one place, wear clothes, marry one wife and stay by her; preferred to gather wild grapes rather than plant vineyards, to set snares for the wild fowl of the Tulares rather than raise barley for clucking hens; wished to have the wind on their faces, the stars over them, the turf underfoot. There were some savages in his fellowship, chiefly mestizos, begotten upon Indian women by drunken sailors or convicts sent into the country to serve as soldiers; but of scalping, tortures, massacres, all the bloody entourage of traditional Indian warfare, they knew as little as of the Christian virtues. They hated holy water, houses, field labor, stocks, the whipping-post, the sound of a church bell; and as much as the Padres stood for these things, hated them also. But they had really not much grievance. Some of them had been detained in the Missions against their will, and that is an offense upon any grounds. Some had been hunted by soldiers in hills where their fathers were mesne lords, and whipped for seeking every man’s right to live in what place best pleases him; that was the full extent of imposition. The Missions never appropriated to their own use one half the lands claimed by the tribes they baptized, and since the Padres preferred raising cattle to hunting deer, the wild game increased without check. The remnant of the tribes, having more ground to hunt in than they could well cover, were not happy in it. They missed the excitement of tribal feasts and dances, feuds and border wars, the stir of a numerous people in large land.
So for sport they took to cattle stealing, relishing the taste of mission beef, and coveting the knives, beads, and ammunition which the Russians paid them for hides, pleased, no doubt, to harry the Padres on any account. Possibly they dreamed, as their numbers were augmented by success, of driving out the Franciscans and restoring the old order, for no better reason than that they wished it so. Beginning in a small way, running off two or three head of stock at a time, they grew in impertinences until they had planned and executed in full force the raid on Soledad, and so brought out the Commandante fuming from Monterey, and the ruin of their company.
Urbano, El Capitan, had deserved his election. He was shrewd, hearty, temperate, and expedient. Mascado, who had joined him to slake a private vengeance, ended by giving him a full measure of regard. The expedition had come through the hills in open order, not too carefully since there were none stirring in the region to carry alarm to the Missions, and with so little soldierly attention to their rear that Isidro Escobar and Arnaldo the tracker had come well within their lines before discovery. Even then, had the two men given no evidence of suspicion, of having noted the camps and the numbers of them, they might have passed without hindrance; and Arnaldo’s ruse of lying down as if for the night’s sleep within cry of their sentries had almost served, would have answered, perhaps, to throw off pursuit ; but word of their passing had reached Mascado, and acted as an irritant to the unhealed scratches he had brought away from Las Chimineas.
Mascado had not two thoughts in his head when he set himself upon the trail of Escobar. He followed it as a hound follows the slot of a stag, merely pursuing, and whetting pursuit by the freshness of the trail. He wished to come up with the young man, to take him, and to take him by his own hand; to wreak himself not merely on the inert body, as he might have done when Isidro lay asleep under the oak, but upon his mind and spirit. Mascado had a good hour of gloating as he sat by the sleepers, feeding his jealous rage by every point of the other’s advantage : race, beauty, fine clothing, the lordly air, — yet he held himself the better man; — so his musing hate advanced by leaps until it burned through the curtain of oblivion and woke Escobar from sleep.
Mascado should really have killed him as he lay, for no sooner was the caballero awake than his spirit was up to cope with the mestizo’s and beat it down. In the first of their encounter Isidro had saved Mascado’s life from the buck that had him down, and at their next meeting, which was really of Mascado’s own provoking, had offered him fair battle which had been taken unfairly. The sense of these things turned the scale a little between them. Isidro, as he looked into his own weapon, yawned to cover any amazement, looked the mestizo over, looked up the trail and saw a dozen of Urbano’s men come riding on stolen ponies, and turned back affable and smiling.
“Buenas dias, Mascado,” he said, “how did you get loose?”
“Eh, have you not heard?’’said Arnaldo taking the cue. “ One beast helps another out of a trap; his brother the coyote came in the night and gnawed his bonds.”
Mascado flinched at the insult that he, who was El Capitan’s best man, should be called kin to the dog of the wilderness; but without replying got them up and to the trail, had them bound and placed on their own horses brought up by the riders, and so to Urbano, since he could not at that moment think of any better thing to do with them. He would have liked to meet Escobar man to man as they had met at Las Chimineas with the girl looking on; — then, — but he blinked the possibility of ending as the other encounter had ended, — against all odds he would not miss his stroke another time. Urbano, however, would allow no outrage. He understood too well the advantage of a hostage, and perhaps an advocate, in case of evil days. Mascado would have kept the captives trussed like fowl, but El Capitan had a trick worth two of that, — he put the young man upon parole. Urbano was a man of middle years, and understood the ways of the gentes de razon much as he understood those of deer and elk. To a caballero of Isidro’s make-up he realized that his word held where no bonds would, so he was allowed to move about the camp of the renegades hardly constrained, but making no attempt to escape. Arnaldo, whose ingenuity showed him a thousand expedients, fretted continually.
“Let us be off,” he said; “we have affairs in Monterey. What is your word to these swine ?”
“No ha cuidado,” said Isidro; “swine they are, but it is the word of an Escobar.”
There was one other besides Arnaldo the tracker in the camp of the renegades who found himself put out of calculation by Escobar’s devotion to his parole. That was Urbano’s right hand, Mascado. Owing his life and some courtesy to Escobar, the mestizo admitted that he needed a provocation to the attack, — outbreak or attempted escape, or, at the least, an occasion for holding him in less esteem, since, though he schemed night and day to make good the humiliation of Las Chimineas upon the other’s body, circumstances were in a fair way of making them friends.
Urbano’s men had come coastward as far as a certain cover of dense forest, heading up among the hills, fortunately situated for defense, and admitting of raids from it to Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, or Soledad, but far enough from these to allow of such twists and turnings of retreat as would throw pursuit off the trail. There was not one of the renegades but believed himself better at such ancient crafts than any mission-bred Indian of the lot.
The main body of the cattle thieves did not go at once to the rendezvous, but spread abroad in the country about Soledad expecting communication with a disgruntled neophyte within its walls. Meantime a dozen of the less adventurous fighting men and a few women, coming on slowly behind the company, established a camp and base of supplies at Hidden Waters. The place lay toward the upper side of a triangular cape of woods that spread by terraces down from the highest ridges of those parts. The wood was fenced on two sides; south by the Arroyo Seca, boulder-strewn wash of an intermittent river; north by a wide open draw, almost a valley, a loose sandy soil affording foothold only for coarse weedy grass. Eastward the redwoods thinned out toward the high windy top of the ridge, passing into spare slanting shrubs.
About the middle of this tongue of forest, one of the terraces, which promised from its approaches to be exactly like all others, hollowed abruptly to a deep basin of the extent of a hundred varas. On its farther rim a considerable spring welled insensibly out of a rock, and, after circling the hollow, slipped tinkling under boulders, to reappear on a lower terrace a runnel of noisy water. Scattered over the basin, islands of angular rock lifted up clumps of redwood and pine to the level of the unbroken terrace, and gave it the look of a continuous wood. Tortuous manzanita clung about the shelving rim and masked the hollow; no trail led into it; the Indians saw to that; more than a rod away it would be scarcely suspected. Only from the slope above, looking down, one might have glimpses of wet flowery meadow between the tall sequoias, but be puzzled how to come at it.
In this pit of pleasantness, then, the renegades made their camp of refuge, there to bring their prisoners and wounded, or to lie quiet until pursuit had blown by. Escobar, however, was not at first placed at Hidden Waters. He was, in fact, on the night his wife and Delgardo’s party rested at Soledad, bound to a madrono tree not far from the mission inclosure, waiting the result of the raid. He made out so much of Urbano’s plan, that the cattle were to be parted in three bands, one to go to the rendezvous at Hidden Waters, the other two by devious ways to go east and east till they came to the wickiups of home, where the women and children awaited them, where at the worst they might be driven into the marshes of the great river beyond any pursuit. Escobar, believing his wife still at San Antonio, and fretting at his delay, was driven with the third part of the cattle to the camp in the triangular wood of sequoias, Mascado heading that expedition. But the renegades missed reckoning with their own savagery. The detachment having one band of cattle in care turned in at Las Chimineas and camped there until they had killed a beef and stuffed themselves with it, being so overtaken by the twelve soldiers from Monterey. Themselves they hid in the rocks among the gray chimneys, but the cattle they could not hide. The soldiers found these in the meadow, and driving them down, drew the Indians from their holes. Then both sides smelled powder, saw their dead, and called it war.
The first move of the renegades was to draw into Hidden Waters to council, and await the return of their men who had gone eastward with the remaining cattle. This gave Castro time to get his troops in order, and Escobar and the mestizo to become a little acquainted.
Isidro, always under necessity of keeping a keen edge on his spirit by trying it on another, used Mascado, who could no more keep away from him than an antelope from a snare. Escobar mocked him and his new dignities, frothed his anger white, or cleared it away with nimble turns of speech, and Mascado was always coming back to see if he could not learn the trick, or at least bear himself more to advantage. It was very pleasant there at Hidden Waters, the days soft and languorously warm, the nights scented and cool. The camp lay on an island of redwoods raised a few feet above the rank blossoming meadow. The litter of brown needles looked not to have known a foot for a hundred years. Waning lilies stood up among the coarse deep fern, the wild rose bushes hung full of shining scarlet fruit. Deer went by in troops; great, nodding, antlered stags came and looked into the hollow with gentle, curious eyes; a bear came poking about the half-ripened manzanita berries on the rim; hot noons were censed by the odorous drip of honey from the hiving rocks. Scouting parties came and went softly, keeping watch on the soldiers who had drawn off to wait reinforcements from the Presidio. The camp needed little guarding; one man might keep watch of the whole south side of the forest, fenced by the mile-wide open gully, over which not a crow could flap unspied upon. On the north, sentries were posted among the rocks, where the river, only such during the brief torrent of winter rains, now ran no farther than the point of fan-shaped wood. Higher up it showed broad, shallow pools strung on a slender thread of brown water.
Then came word of the Commandante’s sally from Monterey, and Urbano kept away from the camp, beginning a game of hide and seek to draw the soldiers and all suspicion away from Hidden Waters, and tire them in the fruitless hills. Then, Mascado being left with the remnant to keep the camp, Isidro would make sport of him, gambling every day afresh with Arnaldo for the few coins he had in his pocket.
“Why do you stay so close in the camp, Mascado ? ” he would say. “ Is it because you know the Father President is looking for you ?” Or if the mestizo went abroad in the wood, “Were you looking for birches, Mascado ? They grow better at Carmelo I am told, and no doubt the Padre has one peeled for you.”
“At least they have no right to whip me,” said Mascado,stung to retort. “My father was of the gentes de razon, though because the Church meddled not at my begetting they hold me as one of the Mission.”
“Is it so, señor?” said Escobar, with exaggerated amazement. “Then I am no longer at a loss to account for your capacity and discernment.” Then human interest coming uppermost, —
“Was it for that you left the Mission ? ”
“No,” said Mascado; “it was for leaving I was whipped. Much good may it do them. I left because, being a free man, I wished to live freely.”
This was a sense of the situation which, Escobar recalled, Zarzito had expressed. It seemed to him rather a singular one for an Indian.
“In the Mission,” he said, “you were clothed and fed ? ”
Mascado grunted. “You also, señor, have eaten well; do you wish nothing more ?”
What Escobar wished, very badly, was to get back to his wife, but that would not bear saying. He began to take an interest in Mascado on his own account, and took occasion to talk with him oftener as men talk with men, though with a quizzing tone; and Mascado, being never able to keep up with his nimble tongue, paid him an odd kind of respect for it, though it also augmented his hate. One thing that drew him continually within reach of Escobar’s tongue was the hope that he might drop a hint of the Briar; but Isidro, because she was now his wife, and for several reasons he could not very well define, would not bring her into the conversation. That did not prevent her being much upon his mind. He wanted her if for no other reason than to share the jest against Mascado or the zest of this entertainment of events. If she were but stretched beside him on the brown litter,— of course that could not be since she was a girl, — but if the boy El Zarzo lay there beside him, it would give new point to his invention; also they could watch the squirrels come and go, or read the fortunes of Urbano in the faces of his men. And in the early dark, when a musky smell arose from the crushed fern, they might hear the whisper of the water and piece out the sense of sundry chirrupings and rustlings in the trees, — and of course she might very well be lying there and no harm, for was she not his wife ? Then he bethought himself that there were sundry matters upon which he should have questioned her more closely. It became at once important to him to know how she thought upon this matter or that. He had been wrong to leave her in ignorance at San Antonio, believing herself only Peter Lebecque’s foster lad when she was a great lady and an heiress. No question he owed her explanation for that. He began to hold long conversations with her in his mind, in which everything conduced to the best understanding.
With this he occupied much of his time, for though he fretted at the enforced hiatus in his affairs, he was not greatly alarmed, even when Mascado gloomed on him, and now and then a wounded man came into camp and gave him black looks as being of the party that dealt the wound. For it began to appear that Castro was not to be drawn off from making an end of the freebooters. He owed something to destiny for the turns she had served him; he wanted nothing so much as to get back to his daughter; he had his adieux to make to the office of Commandante,—reasons enough if a soldier had wanted any for pushing a campaign. He had scouts as cunning as any of Urbano’s, and, having an inkling of the camp at Hidden Waters, began to push steadily in that direction. The renegades had more than one brush with him, and when Escobar caught a presage of defeat in the air he left off bantering Mascado. It was a consideration the mestizo felt himself incapable of under the same conditions, and though he held Escobar in a little less esteem as being so womanish as not to twit an enemy in distress, he, curiously enough, began to like him a little on that account.
THE LADY’S SECOND FLIGHT
“Go softly, dear lady,” said Marta, “the horses are not far. In that clump of willows José should have left them. It is wet underfoot; stay you here.”
The night was soft black, woolly with sea fog, underfoot was the chug of marsh water livened by croaking toads, overhead some strips of starry sky between pale wisps of cloud. From the willow thicket where the horses champed upon their heavy bits rose the odor of crushed spikenard.
“Mount here,” said the Indian woman; “I must find a boulder or a stump; I am not so young. The horses are not much, but I had to give that José two reals to get them. He said the thing had a secret look and lay upon his conscience. Ts! st! Two reals’worth! Can you manage without a saddle ?”
“I have seldom used one,” said the girl.
“Now,” said Marta, “go lightly across the field until we are safe from the town; then we find the road and hard riding.”
Hereabout the ground was swampy and sucked at the horses’ feet. All lights were out in Monterey; to the left they heard the rustle of the tide along the foot of a hanging wall of fog. The riders kept to the turf for an hour; it seemed longer. The fog cut in behind them, flanked them right and left, folded them in a pit, at the top of which they could see some specks of light pricked in the velvet blackness.
Once on the road the horses struck into a jigging trot, which is the pace for long journeys as a tearing gallop is for short ones. Jacintha rocked to the motion, and drew deep breaths of freedom and relief.
“What an excellent beast a horse is,” she said. “ How long shall we be upon the road ? ”
“Until we are both well weary,” said Marta.
The girl swung herself for pure delight from one side of the horse to the other.
“That will be long, then,” she said. “How good boy’s clothes feel again! I doubt I shall ever grow to like skirts.”
“I see no use in them myself,” said the older woman; “it was not so in my mother’s time, but is a custom of the Missions. No doubt it is an offense to God to look on a priest or a woman and know that they have two legs.”
“I would that the moon shone, then we might try a gallop,” said Jacintha.
“With a moon,” said Marta, “we could hardly have come so easily off from Monterey.”
The girl was alive with the joy of motion and the freedom of the road. She had a thousand speculations, questions and surmises, but got very little out of the older woman, whose thoughts were all of their errand and how to accomplish it. After a time Jacintha began to come under the spell of her taciturnity. The damp of the fog penetrated to the marrow and dripped from them like rain. They rode and rode. It should have been about one of the clock, and a sea wind cutting the fog to ribbons, when they turned from the highway into a deer trail, followed that until they came to a creek, turned up it and kept the middle of the stream for an hour. The horses needed urging for that work, the water was cold and rushing, the creek bed shifty with loose cobbles. It was necessary to go cautiously, to break no smallest bough of leaning birch and alder and so leave a trail.
“For we will surely be followed,” said the Indian woman.
From the creek they led the horses up by a stony place to firmer ground. Jacintha was stiff with cold, slipped and stumbled.
“Have a good heart, my Briar,” said Marta, “it is not long to rest.” She chafed the girl’s hands between her palms, the walking relieved the numbness of the limbs. Another hour began to show a faint glow in the east. They had come clear of the fog, though the drenching grass showed it had been before them in the night. When the peaks of the high hills eastward began to show rosily light, Marta grew talkative and cheerful.
“It is not far, dear lady, it is near at hand,” she said. “I remember the place very well; a safe hollow under hanging rocks. It has a blasted pine before it. I was there with my father when I was a child, and that was the first time of my being in the hills, for I was mission-born. My father, though he was captain of his people, had seen that the God of the Padres was greater than his god, and what they wrought was good; therefore he was baptized, and all his people. But he was a man grown, and it is ill learning when the youth is spent, so it irked him to live always in one place, and because he was chief to have one say to him, Stay, and he should stay. So when I was grown to the height of his thigh he took me and my mother and came away in the night. It was the spring of the year, about the time when roots began to be good to eat and wood doves were calling all the smoky days. We came to this place where we will soon be, most beautiful, and it was all set about with flowers by the spring, and had a pleasant smell. Never will I forget the smell of the young wood in the spring. But it came up a storm of rain and wind, and my father saw that God was against him, for it was not the time of storms. Then it increased with thunder, and fire out of heaven struck a great pine in front of where we lay. It ran like a snake into the earth, with a noise so that we were all as one dead. Then my father was afraid, and he took my mother and me back to Carmelo. So because he came back of his own accord, and because he was of great influence, he was not whipped. That was in Serra’s time.”
“I have heard Señor Escobar speak of him; he was a great saint, was he not ?”
“ God knows; he was a great man; for though my father had seen the miracle of the blasted pine which was performed for a warning, he could in no way shut his mind to the call of the wild. So at the time of the year when he was weary of his life because of it, he went to the Padre Serra and begged a little leave to go into the hills, loose and free. Otherwise he would be drawn by the evil of his heart to run away and bring great scandal on the community, and on himself the wrath of God. Now look you, it may be that the Padre was a saint, for my father has told me that no sooner had the word passed between them than he felt the evil go out of him like sickness. And when Serra had considered the matter, he sent my father apart into the hills to gather herbs; and so every year. At the end of a month my father came again to Carmelo, and there was no further talk of running away. Afterward my father took me with him and taught me the virtues of all plants. Padre Serra wished the knowledge not to die out among his people. He told my father once he had been cured of an ulcer by the use of Indian herbs. That was how I came to know this place, for as often as we came we rested here the first night, and saw the blasted pine pointing like the finger of God.”
It was full moon when they came to the place of hanging rocks and found deer tracks in the soft mud by the spring. An evergreen oak grew out of a cleft of the rocks and, spreading downward, formed a screen. Here they cooked a meal, and when Jacintha had eaten she stretched her limbs and slept with her head on the Indian woman’s knee. Marta waked her in an hour, and though the night’s excitement and hard riding left her stiff and fagged she set her face and rode steadily through the blazing sun.
They took some degree of caution as they went, looking out from every high ridge, but saw nothing moving, neither Indians nor soldiers. They watched too, as they rose on the crest of the range, the white mission road like a snake among the pines, but saw no shadow of pursuit upon it. The news of their flight was not confirmed at Monterey until mid-morning of that day.
They rode without talking, drank at springs, ate what they had with them, and though the girl bent heavily forward on her horse with sleep, Marta allowed no rest until four of the afternoon, when they had come to a little meadow beset with trees, which she judged safe, and affording pasture for the horses. They rested here for the night.
Thereafter they had no thought of interference from Monterey, but bent all upon getting to the camp of the renegades. The night’s rest put them in better trim for what was before them. Jacintha had times of trembling, falling sick and afraid, thinking how she would present herself to Escobar in boy’s dress when his expressed wish was that she should remain at San Antonio in proper guise. She wished to talk of him, but Marta would hear only of Mascado. Nothing strange, she said, that he should take to the mountains and freedom from the law, for he was begotten in lawlessness in these same hills. It was a famine time in the Mission, when the old corn was exhausted and the new corn just springing in the field, and the men of the Mission were sent out to seek their meat from God.
“I had come,” she said, “with Manuel and his wife and a party of hunters, she to cook and I to gather roots. It was a golden time, and the quail went up in pairs to the nesting. Hereabouts we fell in with a party of soldiers from Santa Clara hunting for runaways from their Mission. Mascado’s father was a soldier. It is true I was taken by force, but my heart consented. It was mating weather and we both young. When all was known the Padre would have had us to marry, but it was discovered he had a wife already. Santa Maria! it was no doubt a great sin, but my heart consented.”
By this time, although they had seen no Indians, they knew well enough by the stillness of the wood that they had come within their borders. No deer cropped by the water courses, no beasts larger than the squirrels were stirring or abroad, rabbits cowered trembling in the thickets, or ran like gray flashes in the meadow, proof enough that they had been lately hunted. The gossiping jays let them pass with no outcry, sign that men were no strange sight to them. Marta would be often getting down from her horse to study signs unguessed by the girl, muttering to herself or breaking out with snatches of reminiscence of the youth of Mascado. Her mind dwelt more and more upon him as they went through the wood, tiptoe with expectancy. Once they made sure of an Indian moving at a distance parallel to their course, possibly spying upon them, but they could not come up with him nor get speech. Here the forest grew more openly, and they rode abreast, steering by certain points of the hills, but keeping a sharp lookout for signs. They had so arranged their course that they would strike the corner of the forest where the Indians had their camp at about midway of one side of the triangle. To do this they had to cross the stony open space that fenced it from the rest of the tree-covered country, at that point nearly a mile of tedious riding.
It was while they were picking a way among broken boulders that they heard afar off, toward the point of the fan-shaped wood, the noise of firing. The shots came faintly and confused, mere popping and bluster, and held on at the same rate for as long as the horses stumbled in the stony waste, and at last drew near and sharper. But it seemed to them then and afterward that they had a sound different from all other shots, biting and waspish. It seemed as if a prescience of disaster settled upon them as they entered the rustling tongue of woods. The light was low and came slanting and yellowly through the pines. Fragments of lost winds went mournfully through the trees. The two women pressed close together, crowding the horses on toward Hidden Waters. They had not the material for guesses or surmises. The firing had fallen off, but not the sense of battle, which rested on them like a thing palpable. The common noises of the wood were of ominous presage. Suddenly Marta laid a hand on the other’s bridle; the two horses were neck and neck; from the close thickets before them an Indian broke running, his bonnet of feathers torn by the hanging boughs, the streaks of paint on his body smudged with blood, his gun trailed uncocked from his hand. Beyond him were three others bent and running, with broken bows. Then one plunged through the buckthorn, panting, swinging a maimed arm, welling blood from a shoulder wound. His legs crumpled under him from weakness, but he sprang up with a bound and died in mid air, dropping limply back to earth.
“Beaten, beaten,” said Marta; her voice was a mere whisper, but it took on a tinge of a savage wail. The place seemed full of flying Indians. They came in groups, sometimes supporting the wounded, but mostly these were left to themselves, trailing the blood of their hurts across the sod. A panic of haste laid hold of the two women; they pressed the horses, but kept with the main body of the fleeing, dreading as much to be alone ahead of them as behind. It was frank and open flight; where the trees parted to a kind of swale or draw, smooth and treeless, the lines of refugees converged, making for the easiest path toward Hidden Waters. It was here the women had first sight of Mascado. He came out of tlie forest on their right, fit to burst with running, holding a spear wound in his side, the blood of which ran down between his fingers. He was sick and reeling with fatigue. Marta saw him first. Jacintha had no eyes but for the trail, no fears but for Escobar. The Indian woman’s first impulse was to get down from her horse in the common extremity of haste when it seems nothing carries so fast as one’s own feet. She went ploughing across the meadow, pulling the horse, panting, not sparing breath to cry out; he not observing her, but running with his head down like a dog; both forging forward, but slantwise of the swale, so that they came together at the head of the open where it merged again into the wood. They bumped together as not being able to check the speed of their flight, and Marta had her arms about him to steady him from the shock. He shook her off, not yet recognizing his mother, and at that moment Jacintha, who had followed Marta’s lead without understanding it, drew up and dismounted beside them.
Mascado shook the mist of wounds and battle out of his eyes and saw her there in her boy’s dress, the same slim lad of the Grapevine, rounded and ripened to the woman of his desire. It flashed on him that she had sought him in the forest as the partridge comes shyly to the drumming of her mate, come of her own accord to the call of the tribesman, his, his, and the savage in him cried with delight; from the consciousness of the finer strain that lay fallow in him swept up a flood of self-abasement that made his love clean for her handling. Then all went down before the common, curious wonder of her glance. He threw open his hands with the motion of defeat.
“Son, son, you are hurt!” cried Marta. The blood welled from his side, and he drooped downward, grunting. Marta eased him to the ground, tore strips from her dress and bound up the gash, a lance thrust, Jacintha fetching water from a creek that babbled mindlessly among the grass. The act and her quiet rendering of it brought the flying braves to cheek. They went more collectedly, realized the falling off of pursuit, took time to help the wounded, came and offered themselves to Mascado, now as much ashamed of his faintness as of dishonor. They got him on Marta’s horse; Jacintha gave hers to a man with a gunshot wound in his knee. The party drew together in better shape, and still hurrying, but without panic, began to move toward the camp at Hidden Waters.
- Copyright, 1004, by MARY AUSTIN.↩